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Early December 2015 Wolf 359 Aquaria didn't know much about space - but she could tell the space-house (or space station, as Ruby called it) orbiting the tiny young star was old and busted. The metal plates that made up the walls and the ceiling were obviously corroded, turning green like copper instead of orange like steel around their dark grey edges and the air had the smell of something alien and old burnt away in the ducts, long ago. The humanoids in the station were exotic and strange, even stranger and more exotic than the Surfacers of Freedom City, their hair, clothes, and skin all strange colors and textures - but at least they ate good food, including a delicious flying insect as big as her fist that both she and Bliss had developed a taste for. She spent most of her time in the station's small garden, taking advantage of the high humidity (and even small pond!) to bask in the comforting wetness without her suit. She earned her keep by tending the plants, a skill she'd learned at the home of Jessie's sister and her mate, and did her best to get Jessie to come by and help her. It was less stressful than being on the ship. There had been some sort of dispute over repairs to the Voidrunner (she hadn't really followed the conversation) - and it was a high-stress time on-board for everyone. We just have to make it home, Aquaria assured herself as she ducked down to the bottom of the pond (which was just deep enough for her to completely immerse herself in), the ever-present hum of machinery reminding her that this was no ordinary body of water. And they will have all the gold the ship can carry! Reaching down, she cut a few fronds of pondweed with a knife - the stuff was vile to her, but some of the local people on the station loved it in their stews. In just a day, or less, she'd been assured, the repairs would be done and they'd all go home - but now, everybody pulled their weight, Luckily, she and Jessie were both very strong indeed. - It had been a tough few weeks for the Horizon crew and their Star Knight companion. They'd tracked the fugitives to a remote swampy world, and even found the ion trail of the vessel that had picked them up there, but they'd found no clues about the identity of the vessel they were chasing. Whoever they were, they were fast and good, sticking to high-traffic lanes to blend in (but not the ones still regularly patrolled by the Lor), running their engines so fast they must be risking needing to scrub out their coils, and not staying in any one place long enough to be positively identified by eyewitnesses. If not for the unique energy emitted by Aquaria Innsmouth's suit, which noticeably warped extradimensional space while in hyperdrive, and if not for the further n-dimensional changes caused by the fact that the other passenger was from some other dimension entirely, they'd have lost the scent long ago. But now they'd caught the scent. Station K-7 was old and tired, a collection of habitat domes welded together centuries earlier, with a mostly transient population in the hundreds. It was widely known to be a den of smugglers making the potentially profitable run to Terra now that Lor border patrols weren't what they used to be - or even there at all, most of the time. As the ship approached the station, their sensors jangled with news - their two fugitives were _on that very station_.
0.5 LY from Stellar Khanate Borders November 2014 (Terran Calendar) Even under the best of circumstances, this was probably the last place most people in galaxy wanted to be. And then, somehow, it had gotten worse. With the knowledge that the Star-Khan had been made the new mouthpiece of the Communion, that raised an obvious question - what had happened to the worlds of the Khanate, that great cluster of wild, despotic states held so tight by Kinan Khan? Nobody knew. All state-run media, which at times could have made the North Korean press corps look like The Daily Show, was down. Traffic in and out of the sector, already sporadic, seemed to be shut down entirely. With half the galaxy on defensive footing, nobody really wanted to spare the resources or manpower to figure out what had happened within the Khanate. But just because nobody wanted to didn't mean that nobody should. Cavalier was blazing through the empty sector, keeping his eye out for surveillance satellites and Khanate drones. Intelligence said that they would be lightly cloaked but still discernible, providing minimal challenge but serving to signal the guys with bigger guns. But as far as he could tell, there was nothing watching this part of space. Which just meant he'd have to deal with the inevitable when it came. After the push at Lor-Van, he'd had... well, he could be charitable and call it "a rough time." Once Seven had managed to drop him off somewhere near Citadel, he'd made it back to the planet for debriefing. The next twelve hours after that were... mixed. There had been screaming. There had been desperate attempts to sleep, the images of broken armor and blinding light seared behind his eyelids. There had been drinking to forget, and then glasses thrown against the wall because the drinking had done nothing. Somewhere after those twelve hours, he'd actually managed to pull himself out of the void and focus. He couldn't just curl into a ball while the galaxy bled. And that was when Mentor had come to him with orders - preceded by more bad news. "What do you mean the intelligence is gone?" "The attack that compromised my systems during the assault of Lor-Van left several prevalent agents within my system. They have been quarantined in order to prevent further damage. Until these agents can be purged, the affected data cannot be accessed - and, in what was likely planned, one of these subsets is all files pertaining to the Communion entity." Cavalier bit his tongue. The very fact that Mentor had been compromised was not a happy thought. He did not want to yell at the intelligence for trying to work around the cybernetic equivalent of an embolism. "So we need intelligence. Where do we gather it?" "What little we have unflagged makes tertiary references to machine gods and cybernetic archaeology - potential resources of note for down the line. As of right now, however, the best possible resource would be beyond Khanate borders. If the Star-Khan has been claimed, odds are several of his worlds have followed." Cavalier shook his head. "This really is the best idea, isn't it?" "I am examined several permutations, and this one yields the best results. Sri Steward. Your background has been extensively catalogued in my banks. I know you have some experience on border runs. With the Knights regrouping, we must make use of unorthodox talents, wherever they may lay." And the worst part was, he knew it was true. All of it. "I'm likely going to need backup. And not the kind trained to knock nicely before entering contested air space..." "We have already isolated potential assets. A meeting has been arranged..." And so, some time later, Cavalier was flying outside of the Horizon, maintaining vigil while the ship soared across the stars. He patched into the ship's comms. "All clear out here so far. How's it looking on your end?"
Lor Space The Unseen Ocean - interstellar transport vessel All was quiet on The Unseen Ocean - and, really, it had better have been for what people at this end of the massive vessel paid for the trip. The middle-class got the midship and the proles got pods and benches back by the engines, but this section, near the bow, was all high-rollers and corporate contracts. In fact, even the halls outside the multi-room suites were silent and nearly empty - a lone few employees, impeccably dressed, made their way through the smooth metal and plastic archways to keep everything invisibly supplied and anonymously clean. All of which, unfortunately, made the woman who stepped out of one of the corporate suites stand out like a sore thumb. A bellhop stopped cold, fins along the side of his head extending in surprise as he stared - her already unacceptably-dyed hair was disheveled, her would-be faultless uniform torn in places and discolored near the shoulder in what could have been her own blood if she'd had any visible wounds. A slow clicking sound drew his attention downward, to the segmented tail that was slowly curling out from between the door and its frame as she flashed a winning smile and tried to close the door. The door stopped short of its frame, stuck on the arm of someone who - at the sudden sensation of their limb getting hit by a closing aperture - made a disoriented and not-quite-conscious groaning sound. "Ah - no tickets," the woman explained, flashing her smile again and none-too-gently kicking the hand out of the way so that the door would shut. She picked up a heavy, ornate case from where she'd set it down, quickly brushing past the young man on her way aftward. The bellhop reached for his commlink. "I've got the cabin package, Rock, but we're probably blown. We've only got a few minutes before an alarm gets hit and security starts crawling out of the walls." Eclipse tore what was left of the uniform off, exposing a far more practical jumpsuit underneath and putting some extra energy in her stride as, all around her the lights went red and a low klaxon sounded. She reached up to her ear with her free hand to adjust the volume on her communicator. "....maybe less. Please tell me things went cleaner on your end."